Benford's G&S Lexicon Entries for The Yeomen of the Guard

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Act I

For the nonce [suppose it for the nonce]

For the occasion only. See also Princess Ida.

Turtle dove [The tender turtle dove]

A kind of old-world pigeon, noted for soft cooing and devoted attachment to its mate The “turtle” is derived from the Latin turtur, which Shipley (266) says is echoic of the dove’s cooing call. See also Utopia, Limited and Cox and Box.


A musical instrument somewhat like a guitar with six or more pairs of strings. Said to be popular in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. See also Utopia, Limited.

Carrion [Were as a carrion’s cry]

Short for carrion crow, a European species of crow.


An idea conveyed, but not directly in so many words.

Inference [by inference and by innuendo]

A conclusion or deduction.


An indirect hint (usually derogatory).


“A seemingly simple but really clever and designing fellow” (115). The term dates back to at least 1680.

Ruff [this ruff is too high]
Sketch of a Ruff

A pleated collar.


A medieval weapon combining an ax blade and spear on a long handle. You can still see them carried by the Swiss Guards at the Vatican. The word is more commonly spelled “halberd.”

Orders [The welcome news we read in orders]

The written directions for the guards’ activities for the day: the orders of the day.

Debarred [And debarred from all escape]

Cut off.

Sketch of Derring-do

Reckless daring (75). The expression derives from Middle English “dorryng don,” meaning daring [to] do (229).

Boltered [Boltered with the blood you shed]

Clotted or clogged with blood, especially having the hair matted with blood” (228). The line is from a verse that is usually cut (3).

Deuce [Who the deuce may she be?]

A euphemism for the devil.

Forsooth [Thyself, forsooth?]

In truth.

Fell [The consequences fell]


Plight [I’ll repeat my plight]


The bell of St. Peter’s

This refers to the garrison church of St. Peter ad Vincula, which was within the Tower, adjacent to Tower Green. Goodman (140) and Bradley (47) both assert that this particular bell was always tolled during processions to executions. Wilson (319) says the original church was built by Henry II in about 1185 in penance for the murder of Thomas à Becket. It was rebuilt in 1306 and again (after a fire) in 1512.

Sketch of the Headsman

The executioner, whose mode of operation is decapitation administered, if all goes well, with a short, sharp shock.


Imprisoned, walled in.

Double gratings [The double gratings open were]

Inner and outer metal gates to the cell.

Troth [by my troth]

Pronunciation: Can rhyme with either broth or both

Word of honor (archaic).

Forfeit [Thy life shall forfeit be instead!]

Given up as punishment.

Misbegotten [Who is the misbegotten knave]

Of illegitimate birth. We might term it “S.O.B.”


A dishonest person or villain.



Marks [A thousand marks to him]

A medieval English coin worth 13.33 shillings or two-thirds of a pound sterling (75). That reward would have amounted to more than six years of the lieutenant’s salary (319).

Act II

Pall [Night has spread her pall]
Sketch of Night has spread her pall once more

A black cloak or cover.